“I responded to opioid overdoses, but I didn’t think anymore of them than I did the shootings or car accidents. It was part of the job,” he told WSHU.
Where It Began
However, five years ago he started responding to more overdoses than any other kind of emergency. He started collecting information that he hoped would help him understand the trend.
“I started just writing down the overdoses I did, how old the people were, their gender, how they got started, and then the heroin bags,” he said. “I would write whether or not I saw heroin bags there. And I thought if I was keeping this information, which is really interesting, what if everybody was keeping this information?”
A few years later Canning discussed his project with the director of the state’s poison control center, who thought his department could be a partner for Canning.
“He said, ‘You know poison control, we have operators there 24/7 and this is right up our alley!’” Canning recalled.
A pilot program in Hartford showed that the program had great promise, so this year Connecticut’s Department of Public Health secured federal funding to take the program statewide.
Now, EMTs are required to report information about all suspected overdoses to poison control as part of the Statewide Opioid Reporting Directive (SWORD). The calls take about three minutes as the poison control specialist asks the EMTs 10 questions. After the overdose, the information can be used to track outcomes as someone goes to the hospital.
“So when they get transported to an emergency room we follow up for data regarding that to help trend it,” said Lori Salinger, a poison control specialist in the state.
In May, the system helped Canning and other detectives identify risk factors in a spate of 11 overdoses in two days. He was able to alert Mark Jenkins of the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition, who sent out teams with testing kits to help users detect heroin with fentanyl.
Jenkins said that initiatives like this can save lives.